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Graduation: A Review and Retrospective Look

Written By: Alex Kehn


Background:


After two critically acclaimed back-to-back albums, The College Dropout and Late Registration, Kanye West had proven he was on top of the hip-hop world and on the cutting edge of the music industry. Kanye had made it to the top of the charts with his signature and iconic soul-sampling techniques. However, on his final education-based album Kanye West was about to make some serious changes to his lyrical and production style.


The development process of Graduation was fairly similar to the creation of Late Registration in the sense that Kanye began to notice his personally developed style was beginning to be copied more frequently. However, this time Kanye created an entirely new genre of hip-hop to combat those who were stealing his style, called stadium hip-hop. Developing stadium hip-hop didn't come without issues, however. Kanye's third album was slated for release on September 11th, 2007, the same day that 50 Cent's third album, Curtis, was going to be released. Kanye and 50 Cent both willfully entered a competition with one another for who could sell the most albums. Kanye and 50 Cent represented a battle between gangsta rap and the new 'bling era' of hip-hop. Instead of heavy use of high hats and booming bass drums, Kanye used layered synths to create the beats present on Graduation, which gave him the edge over 50 Cent. Kanye's new production style assisted in moving the hip-hop world away from the typical sound at the time, creating an entirely new and contemporary style in the music world.


September 11th, 2007 marked the release of Kanye's most ambitious project at the time and his final education-based album. Kanye had shocked the world once again.


REVIEW:


Kanye veers away from the styles present on his past two albums, which can be seen simply by looking at the tracklist. At a glance, it can be seen that there are no skits on Graduation, which is starkly different than The College Dropout and Late Registration. As a result of the lack of skits, Graduation doesn't tell as strong of a story as Kanye's previous albums, although the overall theme of the album shines. I interpret Graduation as Kanye asserting dominance over those who doubted his success. One lyric that leads me to that assumption is on Good Morning, the opening track of Graduation. On Good Morning, Kanye says "look at the valedictorian, scared of the future while I hop in the Delorean", which shows that even those who get through school and succeed may not know what is coming, however, Kanye doesn't have to worry about that because he has found immense success in the music industry. Graduation has continent-specific bonus tracks and the North American bonus track is called Good Night, which ties the album together perfectly.


Lyrically, Kanye brings the same energy that he had on his previous two albums, although he adds some extra flair on a few tracks, which is both beneficial and detrimental to the success of Graduation. Tracks like Good Life, I Wonder, and The Glory are examples of Kanye in his prime, creating gorgeous tracks that draw on themes like success, dreams, and achieving what people say is impossible. Good Morning and Stronger are examples of Kanye's newfound 'stadium hip-hop', utilizing synths and booming beats on top of extravagant lyrics. Good Morning and Stronger are intended to ignite a crowd, which they do with great success. Kanye's new flair is clearly a good development, although it also led to the creation of one of Kanye's truly terrible songs, Drunk and Hot Girls. Drunk and Hot Girls feels like a cash grab from Kanye and it is completely unnecessary. The beat doesn't sound quite right when combined with the sample, and the lyrics are generally quite shallow and they don't make for easy listening.


The production on Graduation was groundbreaking at the time of release, but the album sounds sonically outdated in the modern day. Synths are prevalent throughout Kanye's third album and were constantly used from 2007 until around 2011. Hip-hop music from that era has not aged well, seeing as synths in hip-hop were overly used and became stale very quickly. Listening to Graduation in 2021 feels almost as if I am listening to a relic of the mid-2000s, but in 2007, Graduation was bringing a completely new style to the music industry.


CONCLUSION:

Kanye West's third studio album has very high points as well as some serious lows. Graduation still holds its charm in the modern-day, despite sounding outdated in terms of production as well as having one of Kanye's very few truly horrible tracks. When Graduation succeeds, it truly excels and creates an atmosphere, unlike any other album. Overall I would rate Graduation 7/10. Despite its shortcomings, Kanye's third studio album is still a very solid project.

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